Although there is archaeological evidence that places Sarajevo’s roots in pre-history, the contribution of Isa Bey Ishaković represents the most significant chapter in its long history. In the middle of the 15th century, Isa Bey Ishaković laid the foundations of an entirely new city, which continues to develop to this day. Therefore, he is rightly considered the founder of the city.
The Ishaković family hailed from Saruhan in western Turkey and, in the first half of the 15th century, they played major roles in Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia.
The oldest source available for studying Sarajevo is the Vakufnama – a document which contains details about the endowment (vakuf) established by Isa Bey Ishaković in 1462, the year of Sarajevo’s founding. As stated in the Vakufnama, Isa Bey Ishaković laid the foundations for a city that would later become the capital of the Bosnian sanjak (prefecture) and later an eyalet (principality).
Isa Bey first established the city in the area between Bentbaša and Baščaršija. One of the first public structures he commissioned was a tekke (due to the admiration he had for dervishes) and then a musafirhana (inn) on Bentbaša. As was stipulated in the Vakufnama, the tekke and musafirhana were to serve as places where the poor, students, soldiers and travelers could all find lodging. Food was provided free of charge and made available to travelers, who had a right to provisions for three days, and the extra food was distributed to poor children in Sarajevo.
The settlement, which stretched from the tekke to Baščaršija, was called Isa Bey’s mahala (quarter) until 1526, when Muslihidin Mustafa Čekrekčija had a mosque built there, after which it was called Čekrekčija’s mahala.
In addition to the endowment made by Gazi Husrev Bey, the vakuf established by Isa Bey Ishaković built many objects in Baščaršija. The founder of Sarajevo commissioned a large inn (Kolobara), a public bath next to the Sultan’s Mosque, some mills on Bentbaša…. In 1457 he built a mosque which he dedicated to Sultan Mehmed II el-Fatih, and this mosque later became the Emperor’s Mosque.
In 1468, at the time when Isa Bey was serving as Bosnian Sanjak Bey, his property was worth over one million Akche (Ottoman coins), which corresponded to the standing of a great vizier in the Ottoman State.
It is known that he was on excellent terms with the citizens of Dubrovnik, who considered him a true ruler of Bosnia.
There is a document in the archives of Dubrovnik which last mentions Isa Bey Ishaković in 1470, when Ajas Bey became Sanjak Bey of Bosnia.
It is not known for certain where Isa Bey Ishaković is buried, but it is presumed that his grave lies in the courtyard of the Sultan’s Mosque, behind the wall that contains the prayer niche, as there is one tall tombstone without an inscription.
Although he set up many endowments throughout the Ottoman Empire, Isa Bey Ishaković is best known for the edifices that he built along the banks of the Miljacka River and, of course, he is known as the founder of one of the most beautiful cities on the western-most borders of the Ottoman Empire – the city that Isa Bey refers to in his own vakufnama, as “a flower among cities”.